Day-Lewis archive donated to the Bodleian Libraries

30 October 2012

Laurel_websiteThe Bodleian Libraries have announced today the gift of the Day-Lewis papers which belonged to  the poet Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972) and his wife, actress Jill Balcon (1925-2009). The archive was donated to the Bodleian Libraries by their children, Tamasin and Daniel Day-Lewis and accompanies an initial literary bequest from Jill Balcon, following her death in 2009.

The bequest is celebrated during a special one-day symposium where the poet’s daughter, Tamasin Day-Lewis will discuss the life and work of C. Day-Lewis with known scholars of English literature. Participants will have the opportunity to listen to recorded readings of Day-Lewis’s poetry by Jill Balcon and live reading by actor Gabriel Woolf. Photographs, manuscripts and correspondence from the archive, never seen in public before, will also be on display during the event. These include:

  • Letter from W. H. Auden to Day-Lewis addressed from Nikolassee, Potsdamer Chaussee 49 criticising a poem he had sent to Auden, c.1928-9.
  • The final stanza of ‘The Newborn’, Favil Press of Kensington, 1/200 copies, to mark the birth of Daniel Day-Lewis.
  • ‘At East Coker’, an early draft of Day-Lewis’s elegy for T.S. Eliot, published in The Whispering Roots (1970).
  • Manuscript of the first leaf of Day-Lewis’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (c.1952).

An Oxford University alumnus Cecil Day-Lewis, CBE was one of the most notable Anglo-Irish poets of the 20th century. He also wrote mystery novels and short stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. Day-Lewis studied classics at Wadham College, Oxford from 1923 and became a prominent member of the Auden group of poets and intellectuals in the 1930s. He was later elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1951 and appointed Poet Laureate in 1968. In 1951 Day-Lewis married his second wife, Jill Balcon.

Jill Balcon was an actress on film, radio, and the stage who had long used her voice (‘a rich, expressive, finely modulated instrument’ in the words of Peter Stanford) for verse-speaking. C. Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon shared a love of poetry and frequently gave readings together. After Day-Lewis’s death Jill Balcon continued to read in public and promote her late husband’s work.

This remarkable and comprehensive archive gives an insight into poet’s career and aspects of his personal life. Currently occupying fifty four archival boxes, the collection includes: 

  • letters to both Cecil Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon;
  • letters and papers regarding the award of the Poet Laureateship;
  • correspondence with publishers;
  • manuscript and typescript working drafts of poems, lectures, essays, television and radio scripts, and readings;
  • printed items (including articles, awards, and ephemera);
  • audio/visual material (including recordings of readings, dramatisations, and interviews);
  • also some manuscript and typescript drafts of the later detective novels written by CDL as Nicholas Blake.
  • Correspondence include letters to and from notable names including Sir Kingsley Amis, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, W. H. Auden, Sir John Betjeman, Sir John Gielgud, Robert Graves, Sir Alec Guinness, Christopher Isherwood, Philip Larkin, Sir Stephen Spender , among several hundred correspondents.
Talking about why they chose to donate their father ‘s papers to Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, Tamasin and Daniel Day-Lewis said: ‘We are thrilled that our father's manuscripts are going to be housed at the Bodleian and certain that he would have been honoured and pleased that they had been accepted. Oxford played an important part in our father's life. If the manuscripts had ended up outside the country it would have saddened us all as a family as the poets who became papa's lifelong friends and peers all met up at Oxford as undergraduates.

We know that future generations will now have easy access to the manuscripts for research, scholarship and the simple joy of seeing how a poet worked at a poem; the pit-face of the pen and its scratchings out and correcting, shaping and forming, in what is the most succinct, spare and specific form of writing in terms of both meaning and use of language.’

David Whiting, Co-literary executor, Estate of C Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon: ‘The family papers now given to the Bodleian encompass the wide ranging work of Day-Lewis not only as poet, but as novelist, critic, academic and public servant. They offer a kind of microcosm of his professional and private life, and a real insight into his world and that of his wife Jill Balcon is given by the range of letters from their correspondents, from EM Forster to Alec Guinness. There are, amongst much other material, manuscripts and typescripts of Day-Lewis poems, and the detective fiction written under his alias of Nicholas Blake, much of it now being republished ‘

Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, Bodleian Libraries said: ‘We are really delighted to add this important collection to our growing holdings of modern literary papers.   The family has been extremely gracious and generous and we are delighted to be holding this celebratory event in honour of Cecil Day Lewis and Jill Balcon.’

The Bodleian Libraries are currently seeking funds to catalogue the Day-Lewis collection so it can become available to readers.
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